Monday, July 15, 2024

France votes in key election


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The pivotal runoff elections could force Macron to share power with the far right

Paris, July 7: Voting is underway in mainland France on Sunday in pivotal runoff elections that could hand a historic victory to Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally and its inward-looking, anti-immigrant vision – or produce a hung parliament and political deadlock.
French President Emmanuel Macron took a huge gamble in dissolving parliament and calling for the elections after his centrists were trounced in European elections on June 9.
The snap elections in this nuclear-armed nation will influence the war in Ukraine, global diplomacy and Europe’s economic stability, and they’re almost certain to undercut Macron for the remaining three years of his presidency.
The first round on June 30 saw the largest gains ever for the anti-immigration, nationalist National Rally, led by Marine Le Pen.
A bit over 49 million people are registered to vote in the elections, which will determine which party controls the 577-member National Assembly, France’s influential lower house of parliament, and who will be prime minister. If support is further eroded for Macron’s weak centrist majority, he will be forced to share power with parties opposed to most of his pro-business, pro-European Union policies.
Voters at a Paris polling station were acutely aware of the the far-reaching consequences for France and beyond.
Macron’s second ‘grenade’
Macron’s centrists in a tacit alliance of convenience with the second-placed hard-left ensemble to ward off the far-right, which topped the first round. But does Macron’s second risky gambit in two months – “a second grenade” – have any chance of success?
The chances appear minimal in the high-stakes election, which will not only determine his – and France’s – fate but is likely to impact that of Europe and the European Union.
Smarting from his party’s defeat to the far-right in the European Parliament elections in June, Macron took a major gamble. His largely unilateral decision to call snap parliamentary elections, seemingly leaving his own government taken aback – as per their shocked expressions in a photo of the cabinet meeting – was reportedly likened by him to throwing “an unpinned grenade at their (far-right’s) feet”.
However, the explosion seems to have backfired – quite spectacularly – on Macron and his party.
Le-Pen’s party surged far ahead to end up with almost a third of the vote in an election, which saw the highest turnout in several decades, the New Popular Front, of a gamut of Left parties, was in second place, and Macron’s Ensemble the distant third with just a fifth of the vote.
Following this, came Macron’s second desperate gambit or “second grenade” – of entering into a loose alliance with the Left alliance to prevent division of votes and set up one-to-one contests against the National Rally in the second round.
While 289 seats are required to win a majority, the complex French political system entails a second round, in which candidates, whose support did not reach 12.5 per cent of all locally registered voters in the first round, are eliminated. Only those who secure 50 per cent of the vote with a turnout of at least one-fourth of the local electorate win automatically in the first round.
It is the second round, to slightly over 500 seats of the 577-member Assembly, that is taking place on Friday and is liable to throw up a range of outcomes.
One eventuality could be that Marie Le-Pen’s far-right National Rally, with the youthful Jordan Bardella its face, retains its surge to attain a majority – or get close to it – in the Assembly, despite the hastily cobbled-up alliance against it.
This was the likely prospect till a few days ago but seems a bit difficult now.
A final opinion poll, conducted by Ipsos-Talan for Le Monde, France Televisions and Radio France on Friday, had the National Rally peaking at around 210, followed by the New Popular Front approaching 180, but Macron’s Ensemble only near 140.
Even if the arrangement which saw either Macron’s Ensemble members or members of the Left alliance withdraw from nearly 300 of the 500 seats up for grabs in the second round to set up a one-to-one fight with Le-Pen’s party, succeeds, the beneficiary will not be Macron himself.
This particular outcome is also predicated on the ability of Macron’s party and the Left to ensure the seamless and comprehensive transfer of votes to each other’s remaining candidate and whether the people will accept it, It must be recalled that Macron, till the first round, was telling the people that the victory of either the far-right or the hard left was likely to lead to a “civil war” in the nation.
Even if, the centrists and the resurgent left manage a majority, it makes for an uneasy alliance between the two forces, and in any way, hamstring Macron’s ability to pass legislation. Cohabitation, as this eventuality is generally called, with different parties holding the presidency and the majority in the parliament is not unprecedented in French politics, having occurred thrice in the previous four decades – and not very successfully. (Agencies)


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